Eight Limbs of Yoga: diving into the niyama, saucha

Eight Limbs of Yoga: diving into the niyama, saucha

I wrote a post a little while back about the eight limbs of yoga: the yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana. Eventually I will get around to writing more about these. Although at my current pace of blogging (slow), you may all need to show some real patience. Skipping over the first limb for now (I’ll circle back to these). I chose to focus first on the niyamas. The niyamas are observances of ourselves, tuning into how we relate to ourselves in order to live more skillfully.

The first niyama is saucha, or cleanliness. Saucha is a personal fav as I tend to be a person who craves cleanliness and order by nature. Whether I’m going to relax and watch a movie or need to focus on a specific task, I need my surroundings to be clean. Saucha includes the cleanliness of your mind, body, and environment.

Saucha of the environment, to me, is the most straightforward of the three. Cleanliness of environment applies to your home, your practice space, your work space, car, etc. Any place where you are spending time. Create order and cleanliness within your space. By creating a calm environment, you create a space where you are more able to focus your thoughts, to find a sense of peace. Saucha in your environment also reflects a respect for that space and creates an enjoyable environment. I like cleaning, (weird,I know) so creating saucha in my space is enjoyable for me. Last weekend I did a deep clean of the apartment to get everything sparkling. This weekend I am tackling buildup of sand and dirt that has collected in my car. Daily, I make a conscious effort to put things back where they belong, keep up with the dishes, and clean up after the kittens (toys everywhere). These are little things but they make a world of a difference in cultivating saucha in your environment.

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Saucha for your body is two-fold, general hygiene and diet. Obviously to keep your body clean you gotta shower (duh), especially after hot yoga classes. Hopefully we’ve got that step covered so take it one step further. Next time you shower, take a look at what products you’re using. What’s in your shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, etc. etc.? How many unknown chemicals are in those products? Your skin is a living breathing surface, absorbing all those products. What’s in the products matters. This goes for makeup too. Some products are harder to find replacements for. I’m forever on a hunt for deodorant that works (sorry friends). An entire overhaul of all your products might seem like too much to take on at once, so take bite size chunks. I recently switched all my face care over to Naturculina, a California based company that uses all organic, natural ingredients. I know exactly what’s going on my skin. Moreover, this stuff works. More on that another time perhaps. Bottom line, be conscious of what you’re putting on your skin. Choose all natural products when you can.

Saucha of the body, part deux. Diet. To be as simple as I can here because I could write for days on this and I like to keep these posts a reasonable quick read: Eat clean, real food. Read your labels. If you don’t know what’s in it, probably not the best for your body. Some easy advice on diet comes from Michael Pollen (love him): “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” You are what you eat. Literally. It makes up your cells. So if you’re eating mostly processed, chemically laden foods versus local produce, imagine the impact on your body. No food is hard core off limits for me. I tend to avoid meat, dairy and gluten. I try to fill my diet with veggies, gf grains, fruits, beans, nuts, and occasionally fish. Also, water. DRINK it. This one is hard for me sometimes as I can easily go a day only having consumed coffee. I know; not good. La Croix is a life changer. Bubbly and delicious. I also make an effort to drink at least 3 water bottles at work plus an extra bottle if I take or teach yoga.

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And finally, saucha of the mind. Your thoughts matter too. Tune into your thoughts and your intentions. Saucha of the mind is a little more complex (IMHO) than the environment and body. To me, it is more about having clarity of thought, goodness of intention, and speaking truth. Saucha of the mind doesn’t mean that you have to only think pure thoughts or else you’re failing. It is about shifting those intentions and thoughts toward goodness and purity. Two ways I work on incorporating Saucha of the mind into my life include becoming more conscious of my thoughts towards myself (e.g. no more negative self-talk) and goodness of intention when relating to others, trying to think and act with their best in mind. Speaking truth is still a hard one for me as I tend to avoid the truth when I think it will lead to confrontation. We are all a work in progress 😉

Thoughts? Lmk.

Next up: santosha.

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Considered the father of modern yoga, Patanjali created the Yoga Sutras, a guidebook of sorts to help those on their path towards enlightenment. Sutras, or threads, provide a succinct, nugget of knowledge that provide insight into the core of yoga. This goes beyond the physical practice and includes as a way of being in the world. In the text, Patanjali outlines the Eight Limbs of Yoga, each a stepping-stone towards enlightenment. The eight limbs are:

8 limbs

  1. Yama – moral guide
  2. Niyama- personal observances
  3. Asana – physical postures
  4. Pranayama – breath
  5. Pratyahara – withdrawal of senses
  6. Dharana – concentration
  7. Dhyana – meditation
  8. Samadhi – bliss state

The first two stones, yama and niyama, are foundational to Patanjali’s eight-limb path. There are five yamas and five niyamas. The yamas can be thought of as “moral discipline”; they help to provide guidance in our actions and relationships with others and the world. The niyamas can be thought of as “observances” and are more inwardly focused on oneself.IMG_5782.JPG

In my teacher training, when we learned the yamas and niyamas we were challenged to choose one to focus on throughout the next week. I really enjoyed this exercise; it helped me to carry yoga off the mat and into my day-to-day life. Over the coming weeks, I am going to return to this exercise in order to dive deeper into the theory behind the practice. For each week, I’ll choose a yama or niyama to focus on, sharing here more detail on the yama or niyama, and how I brought it more into my life for that week.

Shoulder Speak: yoga poses to strengthen your shoulders

Shoulder Speak: yoga poses to strengthen your shoulders

Let’s talk shoulders.

Last weekend I took a workshop on shoulders, focusing on the anatomy, common misalignments, and ways to modify your practice to protect against injury. I found the workshop to be really helpful, both in my teaching and in my practice, so I thought I would share some of what I learned.

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body. This means that it has the greatest range of motion, but also the least stability. The less stabile, the more prone to injury, making it key to focus on alignment of the shoulder throughout your practice and to work on strengthening the muscles of the joint to help support it.

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Dolphin Pose – draw shoulders blade in & up to your tailbone!

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint (think golf ball on a tee), the head of the humerus rotates around on the glenoid fossa of the scapula. There are a ton of muscles working together to allow for such a range of mobility in the shoulder. Due to frequency of injury, the most commonly heard about is the rotator cuff, a group of four muscles that attached to the scapula and surround the joint. For scientific purposes, the official names of the rotator cuff are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and the teres minor. Other major players in the joint are:

  • Deltoids: action to engage = raises your arms out in front of you
  • Rhomboids: action to engage = superman arms
  • Trapezius: action to engage = shoulder shrugs
  • Serratus anterior muscles: action to engage = plank pose

The rotator cuff and the serratus anterior are stabilizers of the shoulder joint. These muscles will help to you to find balance in inversions and protect against injury. In the effort to keep this as simple as possible, two key points to make here:

  1. CHATURUNGA ALIGNMENT: protect your rotator cuff people! When you move from high to low plank (chaturanga), your shoulders should never dip below your elbows. Keep the body in one straight line and lower just till the shoulders are in line with your elbows (or above). From there, push the earth away and pull the heart forward to upward facing dog. You can always, always, ALWAYS, place your knees to the earth for more support, or skip completely and flow to downward facing dog or take a cat/cow. This is SO important (if you can’t tell by all the bolding and capitalization) to protect your shoulder joint and prevent strain on the rotator cuff.
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Eka pada chaturunga – shoulders in line with elbows!
  1. ENGAGE THE SERRATUS ANTERIOR: Take a break from reading and try this one out for me: Get into a plank position (knee to the ground optional), let your chest sink between your shoulders, now actively press the ground away, chest rises between your shoulders, space is created between your shoulder blades. Do this 5-10 more times. Feel it?? That’s your serratus anterior. The muscle wrapping around your ribs is a major stabilizer, providing support to the scapula and preventing impingement or winging of the shoulder. Now that you know where it is, you’ll be able to more easily engage the muscle in your practice.

Let’s talk postures:

Shoulder strengtheners:

  • Downward facing dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana
  • Dolphin, Ardha Pincha Mayurasana
  • Handstand, Adho Mukha Vrksasana
  • Low plank, Chaturanga,
  • Cobra, Bhujangasana

Shoulder stretchers:

  • Puppy pose, Uttanashishuasana
  • Thread the needle
  • Cat pose
  • Cow face arms, Gomukhasana
  • Eagle arms, Garudansana
  • Reverse prayer arms

 

**Shoulder stretches have been so important for me in my practice. I have really tight shoulders, so in order to access certain poses (any flipped grip) I have to stretch my shoulders plenty in advance.

Intention Setting

Setting an Intention: 

In light of hosting #trueexpressions, a yoga challenge focused on pairing a mantra or intention with a pose (check it out! Instagram.com/eatflowlive), I thought I would write a little bit more about setting an intention for your practice, why I love intentions, and how to create your own. 

Intentions, or Sankalpa, help to guide your practice, or to set your mind on where you want your awareness to go. Intentions can be as a simple as a short phrase; they do not need to get complicated! I find that simplifying my intention to one to two phrases works best for me, even if the thought process behind the intention is more complex 😉 Play around with it, see what works for you.

At the beginning of your practice, come to your breath first. Once you feel connected to it, begin to turn inwards, what do you want to cultivate in your life? Is there a quote that has resonated with you lately? Is there a person you want to dedicate your practice to? Is there something specific you want to bring into your life? The intention can be whatever speaks to you; it is yours. Throughout your practice, offer yourself space to pause and return to this intention. At the end of practice, following savasana, return again. Does your intention resonate with you more strongly after your practice? Did setting an intention change your practice, physically, spiritually or emotionally for you?

If you’re loving intention setting, remember yoga does not stop at your mat’s edges, carry it with you into the rest of your day / week / year. 

Stuck on an intention? Some examples to get you going. For more, follow along or join the #trueexpression challenge!

  1. I am grateful.
  2. I am enough. As I am here today on my mat, is enough. I am whole.
  3. I have an open heart. I am open to be loved. I send love out to those around me.